Despite the winter chill I’m lying in bed with only the fly screen tent flap down. I can’t bring myself to close the full canvas tent flap because it would shut out my view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. I doubt there could be a better view than I have right now. From my bed I can see both of these iconic Sydney buildings, only the harbour stands between us. It is so quite, only the odd haunting sound of a ferry can be heard and the chimpanzee’s calls cut through the night. It is almost like they are bidding us goodnight.
I forgot to turn my electric blanket on earlier so while I wait for it to heat up I am in bed with a scarf around my neck, a cardigan over my pjs and the doona pulled up as high as possible while I type the start of this blog. AJ is beside me in her knitted hat, pjs and an elephant onsie over the top. What else would you expect one to wear to a sleep-over at the zoo? It is my birthday and I’ve spent the night ‘partying’ with the animals. A simply awesome experience but I best start at the beginning. As Julie Andrews declared in The Sound of Music, “it’s a very good place to start.”
We are doing Taronga Zoo’s Roar and Snore experience. It is something I have had on my wish-list for a long time. Roar and Snore includes an overnight glamping experience, dinner, a night-time tour of the zoo, hands-on animal experiences and behind the scenes tours. Due to BJ being more of a roarer than a snorer at night, he and Hubby are only staying until bedtime then going home to arrive back in time for the behind the scenes tours in the morning. This is not usual. We wanted to review the experience with a wheelchair but knew that BJ and a tent would not be a good combination for us OR our neighbours.
Guests are asked to arrive at the zoo at 6.15 and we congregated with the rest of our camping cohort at the main entrance to the zoo. The kids were given koala beanies which prove extremely popular. We then received a short briefing from Gillian which set the tone for the night. Right off the bat she was light, bright and entertaining and it was obvious a lot of fun would be had. She told us we had the zoo all to ourselves for the night and to please feel free to ask any questions, “It is a safe space, judgement free” she assured us. I liked her sense of humour. I was somewhat perplexed by her choice of outfit for a winter’s night in Sydney, shorts and a short sleeve shirt. The only nod to winter was her woollen scarf! Think a female version of Indiana Jones but pretty and not so serious. Clearly we were in good hands, if she was that tough against the elements.
Our bags were put in a trailer to be transported by buggy to our accommodation. The big barn-like doors, which are the entrance to the zoo, were padlocked and we were officially captive in the zoo for the night.
We were lead by staff on a walk to our tents. Several staff members lit the way with torches, happily answering questions as we walked. There are 17 tents which make up the “camp-site” and these have been placed to take full advantage of the stunning harbour views. We were staying in tent 4 which was made up with a double bed and a single bed. The tents can accommodate a family of four but if you have teens I would suggest two in a tent would be more comfortable and it is the same cost. If you are staying as a couple the tent would just have a double bed.
The accommodation area has a modern amenities block which has multiple cubicles with shower, toilet and basin facilities.
The disabled facility is conveniently positioned at the front of the block. It is spacious and has a height adjustable hand-held shower head, grab rails, a sink with space under it to access with a wheelchair and a shower chair.
After we checked out our accommodation we headed to the main tent, conveniently located next to our tent, for pre-dinner nibbles and drinks. Plates with cheese, dips, biscuits, dried fruit and freshly cut vegetable sticks were spread around the seating areas. Champagne, wine, soft drink and water were the drinks on offer. I grabbed champagne because there seemed many reasons to celebrate.
The first of the animals were brought out while we were enjoying our drinks. The staff moved around the room ensuring no-one missed out.
My favourite was the tortoise which had been rescued by customs, intercepted on its way out of the country. The markings on its shell were just beautiful with such detail. BJ preferred the shingleback lizard and snake. He is very comfortable with reptiles.
The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, with an air of anticipation. There was a good mix of couples and families all ready for the night’s adventure.
After our pre-dinner nibbles it was time to head off to The View Restaurant for dinner. Lively conversation filled the air as we made our way to dinner. I wondered out loud, “What do the animals think of this mad bunch of nocturnal humans visiting the zoo in complete darkness?” I guess they are well and truly used to it as Roar and Snore runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night and every night during NSW school holidays. It is also an all weather event.
Buffet dinners aren’t usually my thing. I hate seeing people getting greedy, filling their plates to the max and then wasting half of it. Often the food is fairly uninspiring and rubbery, like it has been boiling away in the cloche for way too long.
Not so at Roar and Snore. The food is flavoursome and there is enough variety to cater to most. Dietary requirements can be noted at time of booking. Our meal consisted of a mixture of chicken, lamb, vegetarian pasta, salad, dinner rolls and vegetables. The food was hot and tasty. Wine, champagne and water accompanied the meal.
When everyone was finished it was time to move on to the night walk. The kids were energised after dinner and bounced along the path asking the staff questions as we walked.
There were some great answers to the keeper’s questions from the kids. After a discussion about why the male elephant at Taronga is kept in an enclosure by himself, there was talk about boy elephants fighting. Gillian, one of our guides, asked the young boy involved in the discussion why he thought boy elephants fight. His reply was quick and accurate, “because he wants to get a girlfriend.”
The first stop on our walk was at the Sun Bear enclosure and Mary the Sun Bear was moving her bedding around getting herself comfortable for the night. Red light torches are used so the animals are not disturbed but allow visitors a good view in the dark.
The staff provide a mixture of information including how the animals came to be at the zoo, the personalities and facts about the species. Mary sounds like she has been a wonderful addition to the Taronga family. Transferred from Canberra Zoo to keep the existing Sun Bear, Mr Hobbs company. Mr Hobbs was rescued from a restaurant in Indonesia by a tourist and brought to Australia.
The information shared is told in an interesting and entertaining manner which keeps kids and adults entertained and happy. As AJ told my parents all the news of her Roar and Snore experience last night I was impressed at how much detail she had retained and I think this is a credit to the way the guides delivered the information.
We continued our walk to visit the big cats and the Himalayan Tahr. The walk itself is all accessible with only a small incline at the start.
Some of the kids tired before the end of the night walk and were given the option of going back early. I suspect they wore themselves out with excitement.
The rest of us finished our walk at about 10.30pm and rounded the evening off with some cake and a hot drink. BJ managed to polish off two pieces of chocolate cake so clearly he gave it the thumbs up. Tea, coffee and hot chocolate were available.
Everyone started to head to their tents for the night and it was time to say good bye to the boys. AJ and I walked up to the amenities block to brush our teeth and found that even this mundane task came with million dollar harbour views.
I was tired at the end of the night but found it hard to go to sleep. I didn’t want the day to end. The view was so pretty and I was fulfilling a dream by doing the experience. The red light on Sydney Tower winking at me from the other side of the harbour finally hypnotised me to sleep.
The next morning it was hard to get out of bed so early. It was so comfortable and warm and Sydney was still shrouded in darkness. I could hear the sounds of the zoo waking up with the chimpanzees once again calling out and zoo carts making their way around the area. Sydney Harbour was quiet and still as beautiful as when I closed my eyes.
Breakfast was at 6.30am. A help yourself affair with cereal, pastries and fruit available. We took our breakfast back to our tent verandah and ate while enjoying the view.
We had both slept really well and felt ready for the morning’s adventures.
Hubby and BJ arrived at 7am in time to head off for our behind the scenes tours. Remarkably Hubby had to wake BJ at 5.15am to get back to the zoo – the one day he decided to sleep in! BJ was certainly happy to be back with his sister and to be a part of the morning’s events.
Bags were put back in the trailer and it was time to leave our idyllic place. I didn’t think I’d ever be sorry to say goodbye to a tent but I could have easily stayed another night.
Many of the animals are most active in the morning because they are waiting for food so it is a rare opportunity to see the lions and tigers doing something other than lounging in the sun. The lions were active when we arrived and we were thrilled to witness their “roll call.” The male lion Jambo calls the females from outside the enclosure and they respond by calling back. Jambo then entered the enclosure and we watched as he showed off his dominance and beautiful mane, which incidentally could have been used for a shampoo commercial. It is so lustrous and he shakes it with true model prowess.
The highlight of the day came next. We entered the giraffe enclosure (fully wheelchair accessible) and fed the giraffes.
We learned lots of facts about the giraffes including that despite the length of their neck they have 7 vertebrae just like us and the same as a mouse. They regurgitate their food and when we watched closely we could see it going up and down that long beautiful neck.
I can’t tell you what a privilege I find it to be able to interact with animals and anyone that has followed the blog for a while will know that we take every opportunity to do animal encounters wherever we travel. I think that it gives people a greater connection to animals and helps them want to do a better job at conserving their habitat and protecting them from threats in the wild.
We loved feeding the giraffes and despite Nyota’s size she didn’t intimidate the kids with everyone lining up to feed her.
The hardest part of the Roar and Snore experience with a wheelchair was our trip to the education centre. This is the steepest incline during the tour and it is steep. An electric wheelchair would make this much easier. Gillian, our short wearing guide, shows that she isn’t just tough in the cold but also when the going gets tough, and puts her muscle behind BJ’s chair to give Hubby a bit of extra help up the hill (insert Indiana Jones theme music here!)
At the education centre we met a ring tail possum who had been rescued, a koala and a very curious emu. It is amazing to see how even animals react to a wheelchair as being something unusual.
The finale to our Roar and Snore experience happened in the seal show arena. We had the honour of meeting Mali the seal who doesn’t mind a chest rub from the crowd.
His trainer showed us the way Mali has been trained to undergo medical checks and we learn some facts about seals, sustainable seafood and how we can make a difference with the purchases we make at the supermarket or seafood store. BJ wasn’t too sure about Mali, I think those long whiskers put him off a bit. Ironic for someone who is adverse to shaving.
It was then time to say goodbye to the staff who had been our guides, teachers and entertainers for the last 16 hours. The staff gave us their tips for what to see and do for the rest of the day, handed out maps and our parking passes and we were free to spend the day exploring the zoo. We had the rare privilege of still having the zoo to ourselves for a short time before the gates opened to the masses for the day.
This was certainly the best birthday I have had for a very long time and I am not the only one who thought so. I heard another young camper, visiting from Melbourne for his birthday, declaring to his parents, that it was “the best birthday ever.”
Roar and Snore is a wheelchair accessible experience but you do need to make staff aware that you are visiting with a wheelchair at the time of booking. Not all behind the scenes experiences are accessible and they will ensure that the program is accessible for your visit.
Disabled parking is available in the undercover car park.
Throughout the zoo and at the Roar and Snore campsite there are accessible disabled bathroom facilities.
The tents are not huge so if you are visiting with a wheelchair and more than two in your party be aware of the space limitations (see photo of BJ in his wheelchair between the beds).
The staff will go out of their way to ensure you have a great experience. They ensured BJ didn’t miss out on anything, they helped by making extra room for us in the main tent and by guiding us to accessible bathroom facilities without us asking. Ask the staff if you are unsure or need assistance, they are a willing bunch.
Taronga Zoo has some of the best views in the city and its location is the main reason for this. It is set on a hill and therefore there is a steep descent. Lifts and graduated ramping have been installed throughout the zoo making it easier to navigate but there is still one hill from the giraffes to the entry which is a bit of a killer. I manage it with BJ but he is only 50kgs, so relatively light. Zig-zagging up the hill and taking breaks is the best way to tackle this hill.
Despite the group walking up hills we signalled to the guides that we were taking the lifts wherever possible and would break off from the group and rejoin them to do this.
At The View restaurant try to snare a table around the edge of the room as these have fabulous views. There is a great spacious disabled toilet facility just outside the entrance to the restaurant.
Pack light. You really don’t need much for this overnight experience.
Take phone/camera chargers as there are power points to recharge your devices.
This is a wonderfully educational experience for children but they will be having so much fun they won’t know how much they are learning.
For more information about Taronga Zoo’s Roar and Snore head to their website.
We would like to thank the staff and volunteers working at Roar and Snore on Friday night. We had a blast and loved your energy and passion. We would like to thank Taronga Zoo for hosting us so we could share our experience on our website. Please be assured my opinions and overflowing enthusiasm stem from an awesome experience.
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